He’d been willing to follow that feeling to Eagle’s Nest.

He strode across the creaking floor of the bar. It’d been the right decision. He’d been welcomed to the small town. He felt wanted and he felt needed. No longer an anonymous face with a uniform and a badge, he had friends, he had a purpose, and he slept soundly at night.

But after that panic attack, tonight might be an exception.

SIX

Mercy peered out her motel room doorway and checked the outdoor walkway for Eddie. It appeared he’d settled into his room. She quietly walked past his door and down the iron steps to the parking lot. She opened the rear of the Tahoe, then stretched to yank the blanket off the heavy-duty backpack she’d stowed before they left Portland. Twenty minutes earlier Eddie had helped her lift their suitcases out of the back and accepted a bottled water from the stash she’d stored in the rear of the SUV, but he hadn’t asked what was under the blanket.

It’s not a big deal. Everyone carries extra supplies when traveling over the Cascade Mountain Range.

Then why hide it? She pulled the jerky, almond butter, and fresh celery out of the backpack, leaving the freeze-dried foods. She hated to leave the pack in the Tahoe overnight. People break in to vehicles. But she didn’t want to answer questions from Eddie if he spotted her with it in the morning, and she didn’t want to leave it in her motel room. Common sense wouldn’t let her drive anywhere without it.

Common sense? Or paranoia?

She ran through a mental list of the contents, deciding what else she needed in the hotel room, and dug in a side pocket for a Leatherman tool. She shoved the pack far into the Tahoe’s depth and tossed the blanket back over it.

The backpack kept her sane. If they broke down in the middle of nowhere, she had supplies to last them for several days.

They’d checked in to a pathetic, small motel ten minutes outside Bend. Some sort of conference was going on in the city, and every semidecent room had been booked for months. The FBI administrative assistant in Portland had apologized profusely as she handed them their assignments, promising she’d get them switched to a nicer place close to the Bend FBI office in a few days.

It made no difference to Mercy. Small was good. Less likely to attract attention, and she preferred to see her vehicle from her room. If a situation arose, she could have her backpack in hand and be off the motel grounds in twenty seconds.

Back in her room, she locked the door, slid the bolt, and hooked the chain. The door was a surprisingly heavy wood and blocked all cold drafts. She moved a chair across the room and propped it under the door handle. Then she opened and closed the big sliding window next to the door, checking its weight and lock. It also had been constructed to keep out the temperatures, a necessity in the cold winters of Bend.

Bend was an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Prime skiing in the mountains, white-water rafting on the rivers, miles of biking and running trails. The high desert climate was usually dry with cool nights, sunny days, and some snow in the winter. Typically Bend had a lovely Indian summer in late September, but she and Eddie had arrived at the tail end of a storm. The forecast was sunny for the rest of the week.

She closed the heavy drapes and then explored every nook and cranny of the room, looking under the bed and checking every drawer. Once she’d seen everything in the tiny room, she sat on the bed with a sigh and opened her almond butter, attacking it with her celery. The salt, crunch, and oil hit her tongue, making her close her eyes in happiness. They’d stopped at a drive-through in Bend, where Eddie had ordered a burger, but she’d claimed not to be hungry. In truth she’d been starving and craving her own real food.

While she crunched she opened her laptop and checked the local news websites. Ned Fahey’s murder wasn’t mentioned. Then she checked national headlines and the stock market’s performance, and moved on to international headlines.

Nothing troubling jumped out at her. It was more of the same old, same old, day-to-day rotation of the world.

She could sleep tonight.

She paired her jerky and celery and took a bite, reviewing the day in her mind as she leaned against the headboard.

She’d been gone from Eagle’s Nest for fifteen years. During the trip from Portland, she’d mentally steeled herself to run into family, but she hadn’t expected it within two minutes of arriving. Levi had aged, but she’d known her brother instantly. His refusal to acknowledge her had cut deep, but she’d emotionally slapped a bandage on it. In the quiet of the hotel room, she slowly peeled back the bandage, waiting for the rush of pain.

It didn’t come.

She frowned and tore off a bite of jerky, focusing on the small twinge of loss. Had she matured and gotten a handle on her family’s rejection? Levi had been closest to her in age. He’d been the one who’d played hide-and-seek in the barn, built a tree house, and swum in the creek with her. He’d been her primary playmate until he was fourteen and his friends pressured him to leave behind his twelve-year-old sister.

What is Kaylie like?

Levi’s daughter had been a one-year-old when Mercy left town. She’d been born outside of marriage, to the delight of all the wagging tongues in town. His girlfriend’s parents had supported their daughter’s desire to avoid Levi, claiming the young man was a hellion and would never amount to anything. Mercy’s parents had also been furious, but their reasons had been different.

Pressing her ear to their bedroom door one night, she’d heard them verbally tear nineteen-year-old Levi apart.

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